On Monday, May 4, I released the Pastoral Direction under whose terms we will enter Phase Two of our COVID-19 response. This is the phase wherein our communities start gradually returning from sheltering-in-place to recommencing public activities. The churches of West Missouri will also resume in-person activities in this phase but only after: 1.) preparing thoughtfully to follow the orders of civil governments and 2.) planning how we can carefully come together but still mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The Phase Two Pastoral Direction is composed of two sections. The first section names three requirements (see the first bulletized list on page 2): 14-days of COVID-19 case decline, adequate testing, and an approved parish plan. Beneath that is a second bulletized list describing what should be in a parish’s plan. The second section gives guidelines for careful planning.
Tuesday, I met (virtually) with the deans of our three deaneries and then with the Clericus of the Southern Deanery. They asked several extremely helpful clarifying questions, which I want to share with all to make sure we all mutually understand what the Phase Two Pastoral Direction does and doesn’t say. Therefore, the following is meant to clarify two things: 1.) what do I mean by a “guideline”, and 2.) why do I want you to ask permission?
Here’s what I mean by guidelines (from an online definition):
“Guidelines tend to be somewhat informal. They leave room for flexibility in different circumstances. They outline best practices and are highly recommended, but not mandatory.”
The intent of the guidelines is to make sure we all attend to the many aspects of health, safety, and the other concerns that arise from re-opening our parishes. You do not need to do everything in the guidelines. You need to think through your process of returning to church and meet the regulations provided by your local government. I ask you to use the guidelines to direct your thinking about your local re-opening plan. If you do, the plan you submit will be approved quickly.
But why do I want you to request approval? This is simply an aspect of episcopal oversight or carrying out my responsibilities as I understand them. My goal is to ensure that all the pondering, musing, and considering that is necessary has been accomplished. I do not intend to be legalistic about this. I will challenge you to make sure your plans are well thought through. I will give permission quickly. The Canon to the Ordinary (to whom you should send your requests at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will review all requests and give a quick turn-around.
The Phase Two Pastoral Directive will remain in force until an expected Phase Three is announced (date unknown), which phase may loosen up social restrictions on gatherings.
If you need more clarification, please ask.